Top 5 Benefits, Myths and Tips to Raising Bilingual Children
My husband and I really value our different cultures. I am Irish/Italian and speak English. My husband is Mexican and bilingual (English and Spanish). We had discussions prior to having kids that we would want our children to be bilingual.
First, we want our children to be able to communicate with their grandma as she speaks mainly Spanish. We hope that by knowing and speaking Spanish our boys will have a deeper appreciation for their Mexican heritage. The second reason was a bit more practical. We see the value in knowing another language and how it can open many doors for them as they get older and start working. After researching this topic more we realized there are a TON of amazing reasons to raise our boys bilingual.
Let me go over some of the benefits, myths and tips for raising bilingual children.
Benefits Raising Bilingual Children
- Emotional/Personal – This is what I mentioned above. My husband and I really want our sons to be able to communicate with their grandma. We want them to know their heritage language. Although, I don’t speak Italian, I have always wanted to learn it. We are thinking about introducing this to them as well. We will see.
- Cultural Awareness/Advantage- Learning another language can open their mind to other cultures. It can make them more culturally sensitive and tolerant of others. They show interest and want to learn more about other cultures, traditions and values.
- Educational – There are several cognitive benefits to learning another language. People have an increase in problem solving, critical thinking, focusing, listening and remembering, understanding math concepts and reading comprehension. Just to name a few!
- Practical/Future – It has been shown that being bilingual increases your marketability when older and entering the workforce.
- Mental Health – Of course, as a mental health trained professional, this intrigues me. People who learn 2 or more languages are 4 times less likely to have cognitive impairment, their memory is improved, they are able to multi-task better and it helps slow overall mental aging. Amazing, right?!
Myths Raising Bilingual Children
- Confusion – I definitely heard this one often. “How are you going to teach them Spanish and English, aren’t they going to be confused?” “They will be behind developmentally compared to their peers.”
- Speech Delay – Another really common myth. ” They are going to be behind in English (or Native language).” They are going to struggle in school.”
- Some believe the child needs to be “really smart” before they can teach them a second language.
- Fluent in native language first. Some people believe they should teach their child 1 language at a time.
- You can’t raise your child to be bilingual if you are monolingual.
None of these are true, hence the subtitle “Myths Raising Bilingual Children.” I don’t think I need to counter each of the items above. However, I will say this about the last one I mentioned on raising a bilingual child when you are monolingual. It can be done! It’s not easy but what is about raising children?!
My oldest son goes to Dual Immersion public school. We are keeping our fingers crossed our 2nd son gets in next year for Kindergarten, our school district is school of choice and not guaranteed. We know many families in his school where both parents only speak English in the home. Their children are doing great in school, they aren’t behind, they aren’t confused (the parents might be, ha-ha, I’m kidding but not!), and they didn’t take a test to determine a high IQ level prior to going to this school. I think you get the point.
Simply, the parent(s) found value in having their child know a second or third language. Yes, it takes commitment, determination and hard work. I don’t think any of those things are bad when you see the benefits. What a wonderful lesson for our children as well.
Tips For Raising Bilingual Children
- Commit! Clearly know your goals. Like anything that is hard work you will have your doubts and may want to give up at times. During those times you can remind yourself why you are pulling your hair out and ready to have a mental breakdown. Totally kidding, I have never done that before. Do your research, and prepare for the work. It’s not easy but it is so worth it!
- Meet with other bilingual families, join online or other types of support groups, go on playdates with other families.
- Don’t believe the myths or let others deter you. There are going to be nay sayers or doubters. Ignore them!
- Speak the language as much as you can. If you have a family member that is fluent ask them to speak only in that language. As a parent, if you don’t know the language, learn it with your child. Even if you don’t become fluent, speaking to them even a little is helpful.
- Expose your children to the language as much as possible (inside and outside the home). Read, play music, sing songs, find movies or shows in that language. (Go to your local library, it’s amazing the resources they have!) Research to find a Dual Immersion school, or after school program, or tutor.
As an English only speaking mom I think it is TOTALLY worth it! Mine and my husbands hearts melt each time we watch our oldest son engage in a conversation with his grandma. Sometimes I just sit and watch them. It honestly brings tears to my eyes and warms my heart. (Even if I have no idea what they are saying! Ha!)
Bottom line, raising bilingual children is an amazing thing. It definitely can be done with some hard work and dedication. Remember the benefits, ignore the myths and follow some of my tips.